MANILA, Philippines - “At the Ateneo de Davao University for the Presidential Candidates Forum today,” read the status update on the Facebook fan page linked to the website of presidential candidate Gilbert Teodoro on Tuesday afternoon. The message received 107 comments. Some asked questions about the forum, while others wrote messages of support for the administration’s presidential bet. One user asked the candidate to take action with regards to the “Morong 43.”
It is no surprise in a country that last year Universal McCann dubbed the “social networking capital of the world”, political campaigns are using web platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Presidential hopefuls Gilbert Teodoro, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, Manny Villar, Josesph Estrada, Eddie Villanueva, and Richard Gordon all have social networking accounts linked to their websites
Atty. Mike Toledo, spokesman for Gilbert Teodoro and head of the Gilbert Teodoro Media Bureau told ABS-CBN that the campaign’s online efforts are aimed at youth voters, and that the campaign’s strategy is modeled after President Barrack Obama’s new media outreach efforts during the 2008 American elections.
Earlier in the campaign season ABS-CBN reported that the Aquino campaign was also using new media tactics that were inspired by Obama’s presidential campaign.
Obama’s online campaign has been credited with significantly contributing to his success in the 2008 American elections. His campaign had accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and even tapped one of the founders of Facebook, Chris Hughes, to grow the Democratic candidate’s online presence.
But in the Philippines, which has a more limited Internet penetration than America, it is unclear how online support will translate in to votes. The Nacionalista Party candidate Villar dropped six percentage points in the latest Pulse Asia survey. Villar’s campaign website links to a Facebook fan page that has 817,455 fans, a Twitter account that has 1,296 followers, and a Friendster account with 16,379 fans.
The Pulse Asia survey showed a six percentage point increase for Estrada, who has a comparatively smaller presence on social networking platforms. The Facebook and Twitter accounts linked to Estrada’s official website have 14,560 fans and 670 followers respectively. His Friendster account has 41 fans.
New media consultant Carlo Ople is skeptical that politicians in the Philippines will be able to replicate Obama’s success. “Social media is not a one-night stand. It’s a long term thing,” said Ople, noting that the candidates in the Philippines started their online campaigns only a few months before election day.
Ople, whose client list at one point included Sen. Mar Roxas, says that someone who connects to a candidate on a social networking site will not necessarily vote for that candidate. Ople says he is not working for any of the presidential or vice presidential campaigns this election season.
“It depends on how you use your existing fan base,” said Ople, when asked how social networks may influence the election. Ople believes that growing the number of connections on social networking websites, such as fans on Facebook or followers on Twitter, should only be part of a politician’s social media strategy. According to the consultant, the presidential candidates should try to engage and mobilize their social networking connections.
“If each of your 700,000 [Facebook Fans] gets 10 people to vote that’s 7 million, that’s the swing vote right there” he said. “700,000 people can turn into 700,000 soldiers.” Ople says that the Aquino campaign is the presidential campaign that is best engaging its social media networks, as its online campaign encourages people to participate in offline activities like wearing yellow on Fridays to show support for the candidate.
“We see ourselves as a source of information, as a source of energy,” says Felicity Tan, a volunteer for the Aquino campaign who is part of the team that is building the candidate’s social media networks. According to Tan, some fans of the campaign’s Facebook page use the page to coordinate events among themselves, including events that commemorated anniversary of the People Power Revolution.
Tan says that part of the campaign’s strategy is growing the overall number of Facebook fans, though she admits that not every fan will vote for Aquino. “The more people are engaged in Facebook the more it comes up on status updates, the more you can reach more people,” said Tan, referring to the Facebook features that allow users to see what activities their friends have participated in, like posting on a fan page. Earlier this week the campaign posted a three-step guide on its Facebook fan page showing fans how to invite their friends to join the page.
Tan says that the campaign is always “tweaking” its online strategy, but that it will remain largely unchanged between now and the end of the campaign season. She says that participants in Aquino’s social media campaign may use the latest Pulse Asia survey, which indicated that voters want a presidential candidate who is not corrupt and who cares about the poor, to determine “where we need to reach out more.”
The Aquino campaign maintains presences on multiple social networking sites including Twitter, where it has two accounts. The account @noynoyaquino is updated by the senator, according to Tan. The account @noynoy2010 is updated by campaign volunteers.
The website of Villar also links to several social networking websites, including, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, and Friendster. The Villar campaign did not answer several requests by ABS-CBN News to comment on its social networking strategy and how the campaign is engaging those in their social networks in offline activities.
The Facebook fan page linked to Villar’s website is frequently updated with links to news articles about the candidate, as well as blog entries on the candidate’s website.
The Facebook feature that allows fans to write on the wall of the fan page has been disabled. But fans can comment on the content posted by the page administrators.
One post, which included a picture of a newspaper article about a Social Weather Stations survey, received 1,596 comments. Some users expressed support; others used the comment space to ask the candidate questions.Ople is skeptical that the online strategies of the presidential campaigns will change much before election day. “Since we’re in the campaign period, you won’t see more innovation,” he said.